The Women's March happened this past Saturday with "both divisions and much to celebrate" as the New York Times reported. As a Jewish woman, this statement is truer than ever. As anti-Semitic actions have risen in recent years, any actions or statements with anti-Semitic undertones cause red flags to go up in the minds of Jewish people, especially Jewish women.
Hurt, confused, and shocked at what I was hearing from different news outlets about the March and its leaders, I reached out to their national leaders to ask questions and attempt to better understand this controversy from the sources themselves. Although I was not expecting a reply because it was already mid-December and March preparations were in full-swing, Tabitha St. Bernard-Jacobs, the Women's March Director of Community Engagement, reached out to me by email. Although I originally emailed the head of their Youth Initiative, Tabitha took the time to reach out to me, as well as schedule a time to call me and address any concerns or questions I had about any controversy surrounding the March and its leaders.
We stayed on the phone for nearly 45 minutes discussing history, anti-Semitism, the news, and life in general. We mutually learned about each other's backgrounds, families, and viewpoints. We talked, we questioned, and most importantly we discussed the reality that we are all "imperfect people."
In full disclosure, Tabitha told me that she was not physically in the room when the supposed statements were spoken, however, she disclosed that she has heard multiple accounts of the meeting in which the controversy stemmed from. Because we were not physically there, she shared that the most important thing to her is that although there is no excuse for any form of anti-Semitism to have a place in the agenda of the Women's March, the necessary learning has been taking place within the upper ranks of the March in order to combat any grossly anti-Semitic thoughts that were in place because of a lack of education.
Personally, where I believe a lot of this stems from, especially in humanitarian and women-oriented movements is the disregard for the power of language. The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is one that will not be "solved" any time soon, so it is high time we begin to change our language when speaking about it. Yes, there are negative feelings between those in the communities involved at times, however, this fight is because of the violence from the Israeli Administration, not the Jewish people as a whole, and the Palestinian Administration, not the Palestinian people as a whole. We are all people and we want violence to stop, yet in other areas of the world especially, we need to understand that we cannot simply jump to anti-Semitism and accusatory words to reference the entirety of the Jewish population. Because of the limits of my Jewish education and the media in the United States, I do not believe I am educated enough to fully make any form of a statement regarding a full opinion on the conflict, however, I do believe that making an effort to change our language and avoiding anti-Semitic comments, especially in terms of the conflict around the world, would be appreciated by Jews everywhere.
In terms of the Women's March, education is crucial.
Anti-Semitic comments from uneducated people are unacceptable. Let that be said a little louder for the people in the back. My family died in the Holocaust, and the rise in the Nazi presence in the United States is enough to make any Jewish person sick to their stomach. But, in order to move forward as a Women's Movement, we need to look at the March as a whole. The Agenda of the Women's March for 2019 fights for reproductive health, racial justice, immigrant rights, LGBTQIA+ rights, and more. This March is not exclusive for certain demographics. It is an opportunity for women of all backgrounds and identities to gather in one place and be heard as they fight for what they believe in, Jewish women included.
Yes, maybe the Women's March should have come out with more statements regarding the controversy, owning up to it, and facing it head-on.
Yes, maybe the leaders in question should have stepped down in order to make an effort to apologize for their words and actions.
Yes, maybe anti-Semitism should have been addressed and presented as a major issue facing our country right now, as well.
Many things should have been different. But we must remember what Tabitha said. She reminds us that "we are all imperfect people."
There is no excuse for anti-Semitism, there is no excuse for discrimination, and there is no excuse for fracturing the Women's Movement that affects ALL women.
The major question that we should all be asking is how can we change? How can the Women's Movement join back together? How can we better educate people? How can we be different to change the world for women and people everywhere?
There is no correct answer about how to feel and address the controversy surrounding the Women's March this year, but the reality is that the March is for whatever you want the March to be for, and the Women's Movement needs to unite its fractured pieces through education, change, and ownership of one's mistakes. The work for women's rights, minority rights, and an equal society is absolutely nowhere near done.
The change truly starts with us.